Defra Secretary Michael Gove has welcomed the NFU’s calls for a new commission of food and farming experts to help uphold the high standards of British food production post-Brexit.
Opening the NFU conference in Birmingham on Tuesday, NFU president Minette Batters said a new commission was needed to ensure food imports meet the same high standards as those British farmers adhere to. It would also look at how future trade deals ought to be scrutinised by Parliament and industry.
She urged Mr Gove to back his assurances over post-Brexit food standards with firm commitments. “Mr Gove has said that over his dead body would British standards be undermined. I don’t want it written in blood. I want it written in ink,” she said. “Warm words are nice but we need firm commitments and clear actions.”
Following Mrs Batters on the platform, Mr Gove indicated he was open to the idea. “We have been clear – across Government – that we will not lower our standards in pursuit of trade deals, and that we will use all the tools we have at our disposal to make sure standards are protected and you are not left at a competitive disadvantage,” he said.
“That is why I welcome Minette’s call to establish a Commission bringing together expertise from across the country and across sectors to ensure we can maintain the world-class standards which give British food producers their global edge.”
Mrs Batters said it was ‘absolutely shocking’ that Britain’s farmers and wider businesses were still in the dark about about what the post-Brexit future will look like, with just over five weeks to go until our scheduled departure date. “I make no apology for saying that leaving the EU without a deal would be a catastrophe for British farming,” she said.
Mr Gove insisted he still expected that there would be an agreement on Prime Minister Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement, but he also stressed how damaging a no deal would be for the farming industry.
He said the various potential gains from Brexit, including more proportionate regulation and new trade deals, would be ‘put at severe risk if we don’t secure a deal with the EU’.
“The combination of tariffs, in some cases doubling or more the price of exports, new checks which will be time-consuming and costly, increased transport frictions and cost, new labelling, customs and SPS requirements will all create significant difficulties for food exporters – small businesses and in particular small livestock farmers would be the worst hit,” he said.
The Government is, of course, doing everything it can not just to secure a deal but also to mitigate the impact of leaving without deal.